I once had the good fortune to work with a visionary academic leader. His name was Professor Tom Ruxton and he was a Dean at Staffordshire University many years ago when applications to his area of Engineering were in steep decline.
Professor Ruxton and his team turned the area around from a steep decline and a budget deficit to a position of rapid growth and budget surplus. He achieved this in a short period of time.
If you Google Professor Tom Ruxton you will find his academic success story was subsequently featured by the BBC and wider media at the time.
A generous and inspiring person Tom was always kind enough to put time aside to answer my many questions about how and why he did what he did and how he did it, and I have never forgotten those conversations and the lessons learned.
How Tom turned around his Faculty and enabled it to thrive in the emerging days of the digital age is directly relevant to Colleges today seeking to transform what they do.
For senior academic leaders, Tom had three lessons to learn to enable success.
Lesson 1. Understand the forces changing your world.
For educators seeking to stay relevant it’s essential to understand the forces shaping and changing your specialist subject area. By way of example, in industry roles such as digital storytellers, social media managers, cloud architects, app developers, content moderators, virtual assistants and automation specialists to name but a few simply didn’t exist just fifteen years ago.
Digital now impacts on every single industry and subject area from fine art where an understanding of e-commerce is essential for artists to be commercially viable to horticulture where agri-tech is the future.
Teachers don’t need to know all the answers in these rapidly emerging areas not least because nobody has them all. Rather they need to become knowledge coaches creating the spaces for guided immersive learning.
Back when I was working with Professor Ruxton he explained to me why Engineering was transforming into a high tech advanced industry and why it was critical to change to align to it, and he was right.
He understood the market forces shaping his world and the need to reshape, reform and rebuild his curriculum as a continual process, which is exactly what he did.
For Tom no matter what course you might be discussing it was ‘and technology’ with every single course he offered, and it transformed the success of his Faculty to one of growth and financial sustainability along with recognition for having done so.
Lesson 2. Make People Feel Safe.
We are living in the digital age and that means constant change and the pace of that change will only increase. In the digital age it is survival of the fastest, not the fittest.
To enable educators to develop new curriculum aligned to the needs of the digital age people in their care must feel safe to experiment and to innovate.
Professor Tom Ruxton knew this, sharing with me his ‘three out of ten model’ where from ten new courses launched he expected that just three would be successful, four would break even and three would fail.
This expectation set the climate for staff to innovate with no unrealistic expectation that everything would succeed. It was ok for them to be in the few that failed.
For a great TED talk on this approach, watch the Simon Sinek and his presentation on ‘Why good leaders make you feel safe’.
Lesson 3. Keep Repeating Lessons 1-2.
Tom had a final point three: Keep Repeating Lessons 1-2. That was it and it worked.
Today I have the luxury of spending a lot of time with educators pushing forward with digital pedagogy aligned to the digital age.
In the UK FE sector we have some inspiring examples we can be proud of. Organisations like Leeds City College, Coleg Cambria and Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT) among others are developing engaging and inspiring digital practice from which the wider sector can reflect and create new approaches tailored for their individual digital journeys.
On this point it’s appropriate that this article now flips to co-author Scott Hayden of Basingstoke College of Technology.
Scott is a Google Certified Innovator and TES Technology award winner but most importantly from my experience of working with and observing Scott in action he is a natural leader who enables positive disruption and innovation.
I’ve asked Scott to share his insights into co-designing digital pedagogy with staff in Further Education. Scott, over to you…
Meet the team…
Our Learning Facilitators look after the two Learning Zones at BCoT where all students at the college have their 1 hour of timetabled ‘Blended Learning’ each week using digital tools to gain new skills and criteria for their respective course.
Wendy has become a cult figure at the college through her patience, care, humour, rapport, and pastoral abilities with learners of all levels. When Wendy is not facilitating sessions she is often booked out for 1-1’s with learners like the Hospitality and Construction learners who regularly pop in for CV help and have some extra time working on their Assignments.
Sam is kind and the learners he works with everyday know that he cares about their well-being as well as their digital skills. Over the last year Sam has helped countless learners with a quick catch up on Google Hangouts or in person. In addition to this he is our Virtual Reality Technician helping learners in all subjects interact and immerse themselves in Virtual worlds to gain a new understanding and perspective of their subject.
Bradley is a great listener who gives learners attention and support, starts debates on the whiteboard (Apple or Android?), and trains students using new Augmented Reality apps on his iPad (Level 2 Beauty were testing Nail designs last week with him). Brad also encourages problem-solving resilience from the Automotive students in particular when they struggle in sessions and role-models a calm, considerate, and kind approach every day.
Grazyna is a proactive problem-solver and when we need her to step up and cover a session or help in the Library we can rest assured it will be dealt with. Students respond positively to her consistent, light-hearted, yet diligent approach knowing that she is always there if needed to help with their work. What is really interesting and impressive is the authority and focus she can instil in a session with her body language and mannerisms – I’m envious of this ability.
Our Learning Technologist’s work with staff to create digital learning experiences for all students.
Holly creates beautiful resources for Tutors on topics for all full-time courses. Holly’s abilities as a Graphic Designer and a lifelong learner with natural curiosity make her a great partner for staff when co-designing bespoke resources for their courses. Holly has created Digital Inductions for all students, trained staff, and designed a Student Dashboard that now guides all learners across the college when they log in. Holly’s impact has been immense.
Sky is an Accessibility and Training specialist who works in our Specialist Provision one day a week to ensure that we have digital learning for all students across the college. Sky leads training sessions on how to use edtech in a way that is always led by the pedagogy and focused on helping those that learn differently to be included. Sky is determined to innovate and create solutions to any problem she encounters and has contributed more to the college in two years than she will ever know.
Charlie is a Spreadsheets, Social Media, and Data specialist who has built websites to help GCSE resit students revise on-demand with self-marking quizzes and games while also helping staff to grow in confidence using edtech every time she leads a Teacher Briefing or 1-1 training session. Charlie is tougher than she will ever realise and determined to improve things – like she is correcting education for her younger self – I love the fight and drive she has because it is inspiring to be around.
Each year we take on eight Digital Leaders who have progressed into positions in our team, Higher Education and other edtech related roles. These bright and curious students form the basis of our team and forage, curate, and play with the interesting things they find with the Technologists and the Facilitators.
As a team it is our job to build on the already incredible subject knowledge of our Teaching staff and enhance what they do using this digital pencil case.
Above all the team is built on empathy, kindness, and emotional intelligence in helping individuals (staff and students) learn in a personalised way.
We are here to back all staff and students, to help them feel safe in taking risks, and to remind them of how fun it can be to experiment, iterate, fail, and grow as a consequence – it bonds us and fosters the agile, creative, adaptable approach that we will all need in the future workplace.
Jamie E Smith, Executive Chairman C-Learning, and Scott Hayden, Digital Innovation Specialist/ Lecturer of Creative Media Production, BCoT